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Thank God for the Rod – Monday Morning Momentum


“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23.4)”
Comfort in the Wood?
     I’ve often read through, listened to, even performed in choirs the 23rd Psalm and wondered – “Rod… Staff… Comfort?” Then, my wife and I went through three years of what we pray wasthe most challenging season of our life. Blending a family, learning to live and love more biblically, a challenging pregnancy, a second pregnancy – this time with twins, running a ministry, caring for people, the loss of two good friends in their 30s, tight financial situations that seemed to never end, etc. God stretched us and delivered us. 
     He still does. Hallelujah.

 

Rolling in the Deep
     Ever been through one of those seasons when it seemed you were barely treading water, putting out only the nearest and tallest fires, catching a breath only to be dragged back to the bottom by the next wave? Yeah, odd mix of metaphors. But, you get the point – “survival mode”?
Sometimes, for God’s perfect will of sanctification to work best in us, we have to go through the worst, darkest of valleys. Sometimes, it’s truly the valley of the shadow of death. A close friend of ours just lost her mom very quickly to cancer. Other friends just experienced a miscarriage. A 37 year old woman with 4 kids ranging 8 to 1 has stage 3 cancer. Not valleys I’d want to go through. You?
     Those times, in my mind, never bring up the image of a well carved billy club or a 6-foot tall walking stick, especially when I admit to my need for comfort.
But, God…
     But, Christ is our shepherd. Our authority, guide, protector, and liberator. In those valleys I get weary. In those times, peripheral vision shrinks because of the calamity right in front of my eyes. In those times, I might be stalled and stifled by self-medicating: mouth stuffed with cookies, ears stuffed with buds, zoned out and wandering through life like a… like a… lost and wounded sheep.
     Can’t relate? Your time will come. We’ll all find ourselves at one time or another thinking “snap out of it!”, when “BANG!” God hits us in the head with a “reality slap”.  I’ve never been hit with a nightstick in literal terms, but have you ever told of a time in your story when God hit you “in the head with a spiritual 2×4”? Rod… Thank you, God. So under the pressure I’d have stepped off the cliff had I not been hit by that blow. Startled, yet comforted that someone was looking out for me when I had no capacity to do so for myself.
     Thank God for the rod.
Your Mileage May Vary
     I won’t give an example of being stuck in a thicket of thorns, wounded and bleeding by my own wandering – you fill in that blank. You’ve got the scars, don’t you? As Shepherd, He’s shown you the value of a staff that can pry you out of what’s entangled you. It may take patience and struggle and you may keep bleeding while you come unstuck. But, there’s comfort, isn’t there, seeing His staff lift the briars from your path?
Be Encouraged
     As you disciple others, the thickets and cliffs God has protected you from are crucial testimony. We all wander into trouble… too close to cliffs. Trouble even occasionally seeks us. Sometimes, we may even question His authority or sovereignty when He leads us through treacherous territory. Ultimately, the toughest territories turned out to be the best way to the greatest and most lasting life change under His authorship. The muscle and spiritual stamina built by the climbs through the valleys are what bring us the greatest mountain top experiences.
Grace and peace,

AP

I Wish I Were Somewhere Else… Monday Morning Momentum

     Among the many conversations I’ve had with the men God has me walking with, a good double digit percentage of them have been about work – successes, failures, disappointments, prospects, tough cases, difficult people, etc. It always gets interesting when a guy, particularly one who is frustrated with his current work situation, brings up the idea of “going into full time ministry”.

     Occasionally, one of these guys is truly responding to a calling the Lord has placed on their heart. Over time and with much prayer, even fasting, the calling is authenticated. For the most part though, we [the guy and I] have discovered he’s simply in the midst of an “I wish” moment, wishing he were somewhere else, doing something else, with someone else, especially with less strife, contention, and aggravation, and often at a higher rate of pay.

Called?

     We recently moved out of a neighborhood where one of our neighbors was a couple who’ve spent over 25 years as missionaries to the Dominican Republic. I regularly meet with a couple of guys who’ve been in full time ministry for over a decade each. All of these people are amazing, authentically called, God equipped workers for the Kingdom. And, contrary to what some would believe, they’re not always happy about how things are going “at work”.

     Two other guys – Kurt, probably in the best shape of any guy I know. So much so, that he’s a professional personal trainer (who does amazing things for his clients with only a small amount of weight and very few workouts per week). I run into him at some event maybe once every two years, but I see his Facebook page much more often than that. There, I notice two things – he’s not wishing he was doing anything else, and he’s clearly on a mission to stir up peoples’ thoughts and get them thinking about the gospel. Recently, he commented: “I think people tend to harbor naive views as to what is more a thing of God than another.” Great point.


     Ron runs a large company – over 200 retail locations nationwide. I have no idea how he gets done all that he does in a given week with all the employees, warehouses, and fires he has to put out. But, he somehow finds time to write incredibly insightful content for a ministry for men called ONE TH1NG, study scripture, and present a cogent 15 minute “set up” that leaves the dozens of guys who attend thinking deeply about the thoughts of God and how those should govern their lives.

     Neither of these guys are “in full time ministry”. Yet, they show no evidence of playing “I wish” with their careers. What gives? Why the contentment?

     Cristine had an opportunity to pick up a part time job last year for a few hours a week. One of her co-workers has been deeply wounded by “church people” in her past because she identifies as a lesbian. After six months of prayerful, Spirit-led conversation, Cristine received the comment that she had “restored her faith in Christians”.

     This isn’t to brag about how godly Cristine is, how selfless Ron is, or how bad you need to inbox me if you’re serious about getting in shape with Kurt… Alright, only the former two are true. Inbox me and I’ll connect you with Kurt. The point is pretty obvious – it’s not about how difficult people are at work, how off the pay is, how challenging the workload, etc. It’s about the fact that God:

From one man… made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. (Acts 17:26-27)”

     We have all been given a time, a place… a platform to proclaim the gospel, to spur others on to love and good deeds, to urge others to consider their ways and the God who made them. To assume that we should be somewhere else is a “vertical matter” – we must all weigh seriously the leadings of the Lord who would have us move from one career to another. However, this prayer must always begin with great thanksgiving that God has indeed placed us where we are with whom He placed us for a reason. To ignore this is to call God a fool and assume He knew not what He was doing when he placed us there.

Be Encouraged
     If scripture is true, and I believe that it is, then God has placed some in “full time ministry” and others in “full time ministry” (not a typo). Enjoying the Lord most is often found in enjoying even the rough landscape upon which He has drawn our career path. There is someone in your office, your client list, your platform that needs the love, the wisdom, the comfort, the counsel, the truth and grace of Christ. Reaching them does not guarantee “graduation” to a “better” job, rather it guarantees a “well done, good and faithful servant” from the God who searches hearts and minds and will reward all for what they do in the body, whether good or bad.

    Let us find ourselves rejoicing in adversity, thanking God for His toughest assignments, and receiving eternal rewards once we have ultimately “overcome” (see Rev. 2 & 3), rather than clicking our ruby slippers together wishing we were anywhere else.